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date: 08 December 2021

Indigenous Policy and Politics in Twentieth-Century Brazillocked

Indigenous Policy and Politics in Twentieth-Century Brazillocked

  • Seth W. GarfieldSeth W. GarfieldDepartment of History, The University of Texas at Austin


Over the course of the 20th century, Brazil’s Indigenous population underwent dramatic change. Frontier expansion, agricultural modernization, and natural resource extraction led to the invasion of Indigenous lands and interethnic conflict. Indigenous peoples that had once secured refuge through territorial dominion were besieged by settlers and epidemic disease. Communities with longer histories of integration confronted expulsion, social marginalization, and bigotry. Dominant ideologies tended to dichotomize Indigenous peoples as cultural isolates or degenerates.

The Brazilian state played a key role in the social transformation of the countryside through the expansion of transportation infrastructure, the subsidization of large-scale agriculture, and the promotion of mineral extraction and hydroelectric power. Upholding developmentalism as an economic and geopolitical imperative, the Brazilian state sought to mediate ensuing social conflicts. The Indigenous Affairs bureau aspired to conciliate interethnic tension through adoption of a protectionist policy and “tutelage” of Native peoples, yet full-fledged Indigenous acculturation, deemed indispensable for nation-building and market integration, remained the endgame.

Confronting the onslaught on their lifeways, Indigenous peoples mobilized in defense of their communities. With the support of domestic and foreign allies, Native peoples in Brazil made significant advances in demographic recovery, political organization, and legal recognition of their lands and cultures. Nevertheless, the Indigenous populations of Brazil continue to struggle against land invasion and poverty, violence, social prejudice, and challenges to their constitutional rights. The history of Indigenous policy and politics in 20th-century Brazil reflects not only a minority population’s fight for cultural survival and social inclusion but a battle over the soul of a nation.


  • History of Brazil
  • Indigenous History

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